IF YOU spend much time living in Japan, an expression you are likely to hear is “shimaguni konjo,” which is usually translated as “island mentality.” Since Japan is separated from the outside world by water on all sides, and had almost all contact with other countries banned for more than 200 years during the Tokugawa era, it is no wonder many Japanese look inward most of the time. People often tend to pay a lot of attention to relatively minor local news items. Topics such as the expected starting date of the cherry blossom viewing season, a new method for pickling Japanese radishes, or the latest scandal involving a young actress, will be widely discussed. Major international events will be ignored if they don’t have a direct impact on Japan ... shimaguni konjo.
Given its physical isolation from the nearest large land masses, it is only natural that Guam might also show a little bit of shimaguni konjo from time to time. Jon Anderson, editor-in-chief of Marianas Variety-Guam, often tells me that in his days as a radio talk show host here on the island, the phone banks would light up whenever a hot local issue was the topic – but they would be almost dead whenever an international news story was being discussed. And historically, of course, the people of Guam have typically lived for decades (if not centuries) on end with almost nothing being impacted by the forces of the outside world ... until it was.
And then, what traumatic events they were. Magellan’s landing in the south and the Spanish genocide that followed. The sudden change from Spanish to American colonial rule in the 1890s. The Japanese invasion and occupation of World War II, and the American counterattack. Decisions made in Madrid, Tokyo or Washington D.C. dramatically affecting the lives of just about everyone living on the island, but which were usually taken without the slightest regard for local opinion.
I doubt anyone in the world knows more than the Chamorros about the limitations of shimaguni konjo, and about how drastically one’s world can change due to events initiated far over the horizon.
There is said to be an old Chinese curse which goes, “May you live in interesting times!” ... and the times we are living in now are very interesting, to say the least. For this reason, I am delighted to start this column we are calling “Guam and Beyond.” In it, I hope to examine some of the issues that might seem – at first glance – far removed from our daily lives here on Guam, but which could easily have a dramatic impact on every one of us. Of course, I’ll be talking a lot about Japan, given my background there and its importance for Guam, but I’ll also be looking at a range of other U.S. and international trends ... and, who knows, maybe even a purely local issue or two as well.
I hope you’ll enjoy the column. Please feel free to respond to anything you read with a Letter to the Editor or a posting on our website. Si Yu’us Ma’åse.